Decomposition and Processing of Negative Adjectival Comparatives

  • Daniel TuckerEmail author
  • Barbara Tomaszewicz
  • Alexis Wellwood
Part of the Language, Cognition, and Mind book series (LCAM, volume 4)


Recent proposals in the semantics literature hold that the negative comparative less and negative adjectives like short in English are morphosyntactically complex, unlike their positive counterparts more and tall. For instance, the negative adjective short might decompose into little tall (Rullmann, Dissertation, 1995; Heim, Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory, vol. 16, 2006, Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung, vol. 12, 2008; Büring, Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory, vol. 17, 2007). Positing a silent little as part of adjectives like short correctly predicts that they are semantically opposite to tall; we seek evidence for this decomposition in language understanding in English and Polish. Our visual verification tasks compare processing of positive and negative comparatives with taller and shorter against that of less symbolically-rich mathematical statements, \(A > B\), \(B < A\). We find that both language and math statements generally lead to monotonic increases in processing load along with the number of negative symbols (as predicted for language by e.g. Clark and Chase, Cognitive Psychology, 3:472–517, 1972). Our study is the first to examine the processing of the gradable predicates tall and short cross-linguistically, as well as in contrast to extensionally-equivalent, and putatively non-linguistic stimuli (cf. Deschamps et al, Cognition, 143:115–128, 2015 with quantificational determiners).


Experimental semantics Gradable adjectives Negation Comparatives Morphology Psycholinguistics Symbolic processing Decomposition 



We are grateful to Rebecca Way for creating the diagrams illustrating the Kennedy semantics from Sect. 2, and assisting with programming Experiment 1. We also extend our gratitude to Joanna Blaszczak, Andreas Brocher, Johannes Gerwien, Naomi Kamoen, and Maria Mos for their involvement with coding Experiment 2. Finally, we extend a special acknowledgment to Yaman Özakın for his work on creating the picture stimuli used in both experiments. The work on Experiment 2 was supported by the Polish National Science Center (NCN) grant OPUS 5 HS2 (DEC-2013/09/B/HS2/02763).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Tucker
    • 1
    Email author
  • Barbara Tomaszewicz
    • 2
    • 3
  • Alexis Wellwood
    • 4
  1. 1.Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  2. 2.Universität zu KölnKölnGermany
  3. 3.Instytut Filologii Angielskiej, Uniwersytet WrocławskiWrocławPoland
  4. 4.University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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